How to Become a Travel Agent?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by Biu, Feb 7, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Biu
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    Biu Silver Member

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    A few of us here are very curious -- any TAs here willing to share their stories on how they began? What are the fees, certifications or equipment required in the US? What are some necessary steps to gain experience?
     
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  2. joesmoe
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    joesmoe Gold Member

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    Great thread, i'm also curious.

    BUMP
     
  3. kraven
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    kraven Silver Member

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    For Germany:
    I started my apprenticeship some years ago at a large business travel agency. The training period is between 2 and 3 years, depending on your previous knowledge and previous education. Of course I finished it in 2 years :D
    You have to pass written and verbal tests at the chamber of commerce at the end to get the certificate that you're are a Certified Travel Agent. The whole thing costs nothing but time (and a training company, of course).

    The bigger obstacle is opening your own Travel Agency. It's easier to join a existing one which should be a IATA-accredited one to get the full experience. But, if you want to build your own, you'll have to make contracts with the IATA (or other ticket shops if you do not want to be an IATA-agency), get bank guarantees and of course get the right software licences. Amadeus is fine, but other ones like Sabre or Galileo will do it, too.
    The final part is getting customers to generate revenue :D
     
  4. Biu
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    Biu Silver Member

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    Thanks for sharing, Kraven. Very interesting process, sounds tough. I wonder how different it is from the US.
     
  5. rchavez
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    rchavez Active Member

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    If you want to give it a go, without going the accreditation route and getting bonds, etc., look into finding a host agency like Nexion or one of the other regional agencies. You pay them a monthly fee and split any commissions with them, but they take on the burden of maintaining the ARC requirements like bonds, etc.

    I don't have any first-hand experience with Nexion or hosting agencies, but it seems to be a quick route to dip your toe in the water to see if you can really generate an income from it.
     
  6. TrueBlueFlyer
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    TrueBlueFlyer Silver Member

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    I could never be a Travel Agent... it would only make me depressed seeing as my clients travel and I don't. (even though I realize some of the perks may be you getting to check out some of those destinations you are expected to sell)

    I had a similar experience to a Travel Agent with my first job in the Limousine Industry... I loved cars and I loved to travel but running a limousine company from the office you get to do neither one of those things! Again, was a very depressing period of ten years that I spend in this industry while I put myself through college. I started traveling a little once I ventured into business development role for the limo company, but then the recession hit and "poof" went my job!
     
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  7. I always thought it would be fun being a TA on the side - of course this was back before the zillions of travel websites popped up. I'll have to look into Nexion and see what it's all about!
     
  8. rchavez
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    rchavez Active Member

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    You really have to love the industry to want to become an agent these days, and you have to be prepared to provide a differentiating service. The issue is that shopping for travel products has been dramatically commoditized over the last decade, while also seeing commissions cut to almost nothing. As a result, travel agents have been forced to charge service fees for each transaction to replace the revenue stream they previously relied upon.

    That said, the most successful agents that I know do that without any issues from their customers. But, they're also hyper-organized, incredibly in-tune with their customers personalities, likes and dislikes, and are extremely proactive in their handling and monitoring of their customers.

    It goes back to providing a service, and not just selling a product. You might want to consider what niche you want to target and go that route. The internet these days can really help you build a clientele around some very unique specialties.

    I started in the industry (albeit on the technology side, not the agent side) back in 1998, and the last 12+ years have seen a pretty large reduction in perks and bennies thrown to agents. The only perk I reliably enjoyed was industry rates at hotels. But I started to realize, Priceline could often beat the rates I was getting with my IATAN card. For the airlines that still offer AD75s, they're difficult to snag. Upgrades came via my FF status. All while seeing the agency community get squeezed tighter and tighter by suppliers on the commission front.

    But those who have survived, and excelled, like I said before, are the ones that really love their job and filling the role of trusted advisor to their customers as they plan their vacations or navigate the often stressful world of business travel.

    I'm definitely in that camp. I love my industry, I love what I do, so if you feel the same sense of passion, I say go for it and give it a shot! But definitely go into it eyes wide open because it will be a challenge, for sure.
     
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  9. Tkey
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    Tkey Silver Member

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    Meh. I bet most of the trips booked are a lot more common and pedestrian than you think and difficult, exotic bookings are pretty rare.
     
  10. Cosmos Human
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    Cosmos Human Silver Member

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    The local AAA is always packed with people looking for trips and advice. However, they want very experienced TAs to work there. Me being a "people person" just won't cut it.
     
  11. Peachy3
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    Peachy3 Silver Member

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    I always thought it would be fun just doing a part time TA job. Most of us will probably do better than the average TA anyway! (And have the knowledge to do so!)
     
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  12. Biu
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    Biu Silver Member

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    +1!

    Thanks for sharing your story! Any tip for starters on what steps to take?

    Other than the Nexion route, anyone else here an actual TA who can provide some insights on how one can start?
     
  13. Erasmus
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    Erasmus Silver Member

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    Very interesting! I've frequently wondered whether it wouldn't be worth my while to pay a monthly fee to be able to issue my own tickets---would save hours of frustration dealing with ill-informed call center agents. If the monthly fee were low enough, would likely even be cost effective vs paying $25/per ticket that a TA would charge me.

    Looking at the Nexion web page, it appears you can get in for $45/mo for one GDS (with a ~$200 signon fee). I don't care about the commission split, as I 1) would rarely ticket a commissionable fare, and 2) wouldn't be doing it for profit. That seems almost too good to be true! If I book a few tickets a month, I'd save money! Of course, that presumes I could get by with one GDS. Can a GDS (Amadeus, say) issue tickets for any airline, or does it have to be the "home" GDS of the plating carrier (i.e., Sabre for AA)?

    I'm worried, though, that my cluelessness about the industry is causing me to overlook other services I'd need. Would one need more than GDS access (and associated ticketing fulfillment) to issue airline tickets? I'd skip the E&O insurance and "self insure" for my own travel ;)
     
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  14. JALPak
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    JALPak Gold Member

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    Let me know if you could figured that out. Most of the time I ended up calling JAL myself to push for my own seats to be cleared. Read the fare rules and play with the routing myself. All my TA does is enter the flight numbers into the computer and issue the ticket :eek: I might as well do that myself :p
     
  15. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Yes, you can pretty much issue any ticket on any carrier. But if you F things up, the airlines issue debit memos - and they aren't pretty. You have to defend yourself as to why your ticket was issued properly / commission claimed properly, etc. Also, if you don't have some sort of support, even after a reasonable amount of training, odd things still happen and you won't know why a ticket won't issue (while each time you try, another authorization request will hit the credit card).

    The GDS systems are not intuitive, but they are fairly easy for most things once you get a handle on them. Also, once you know one, the airline website overlays for them are extremely frustrating. I can find what I am looking for in a small fraction of a time as when I'm looking on an airline website. But reading and understanding fare rules / pricing , etc., can be quite confusing for the uninitiated.

    I really think that starting one's own agency, with ARC/IATA accreditation these days is insane. You have to be a cutthroat businessperson all while maintaining good people skills to make a go. If you charge less than near $50 a ticket for the most basic transaction, you might as well not even open your doors. The travel benefits are a mere shadow of what they were, say, 20 years ago. It isn't that they aren't there, but the days of F upgrades, lots of free tickets thrown about, near-free hotel rooms, and fam trips so cheap you couldn't afford to stay home, are pretty much gone.

    I really don't know where one goes for a decent education these days. I had a small agency help me out many years ago when I was in school, when all tickets paid a decent commission, and when the industry was a different monster.

    It is a horrible business to get into. As a "hobby," if you don't know what you are doing, it can be risky. If you do something for another agency, it may require you to get E&O. Nevertheless, it is an important industry, and a good TA can do for you, in very rapid fashion, things that you often could never do on your own, including private fares that may not be available to the public.
     
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  16. Erasmus
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    Erasmus Silver Member

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    Exactly what I'm interested in! Let me at the cryptic commands!

    I agree; I wouldn't be in it for profit or bennies (or consolidator/negotiated fares). I make far more at my day job than I ever could in the travel industry. I just yearn for the ability to not have to deal with airline call centers or shell out a ticketing fee to someone who generally knows less about the rules regarding the ticket I'm trying to issue than I do.

    I figured I'd have to luck out and run into somebody who ran a small travel agency and was willing to take me on as an unpaid agent. That's probably tricky, though, as I realize that a mistake could open whoever holds the bond for the agency up to debit memos or worse in serious cases.

    You sound like an agent yourself. Any chance you're looking for an apprentice? ;)
     
  17. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    HA. I've done outside sales on and off for about 25 years. I keep a relationship with an agency but I don't do much anymore. My GDS fees are often similar to my gross commissions for a year. We are talking 3-digits here (without the cents).
     
  18. Erasmus
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    Erasmus Silver Member

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    Well, considering I pay in the low 3 digits already for subscriptions to travel tools (e.g., EF) that don't let me ticket, I'd be ecstatic if I could get the ability to ticket for less than 4 digits a year. Many moons ago, some of my buddies at ITA let me have ticketing privileges there, but they stopped ticketing at all not too long afterwards so never got to make much use of it.

    Frankly, this is seeming far more realistic than I ever would have imagined... Sounds like I may have to drop in on the next local TA convention and make some friends!
     
  19. Gnopps
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    Gnopps Silver Member

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    My story as travel agent

    When I was at the university I studied 9 semesters and got a degree in work psychology to become a HR-person. However, I had had a passion for flying since years before and I realised when I was finished that I wanted to work in the travel business. Seeing that I would often knew much more than the travel agents I spoke to I was convinced that I must be able to do their job better. So when I was out of the university I moved from my native Sweden to Ireland to work at the call center for a major airline, just to get a foot in the business. I had no prior schooling within the travel business but quickly learnt the in-house system and excelled compared to my colleagues. Within a few months I was promoted to a high position.

    Having worked a year there I couldn't stand being apart from my girlfriend any more so I moved to her native Finland, not knowing Finnish nor having a job. I took stray jobs in the beginning, working at a daycare and school. After about half a year I got a job at a travel agency, Finnish wasn't needed as I would be working with international customers. I got the job because I said I knew Amadeus, which wasn't the complete story. I was familiar with Amadeus but didn't know it very well - though having been an computer nerd in my teens I knew I would quickly learn it.

    So a week before I started the new job I did a quick starter course in Amadeus and everything went fine. Again the same thing happened I was quickly the top performer at the office. I still work at the same place but and am the person who everyone always asks questions from, both regarding Amadeus and aviation.

    I thank Flyertalk and playing with Expertflyer & ITA for learning the business before starting and I thank my passion for the business for getting to where I am.

    As a travel agent I get many discounts but do not use them very often apart from the hotel discounts. In USA Priceline is often cheaper than the travel agents rates but in other parts of the world I use the hotel discounts. I never travel on the airline discounts because they are not always that great, you don't get any miles and they are almost always semi-standby (though working for an airline you greater discounts that may be worthwhile). When travelling on business I have to use all these discounts though so I have to earn all my miles with my private tickets. Sometimes I curse these discount tickets when I am not allowed on an overbooked plane, at other times it is fun when they instead say I can get on if I sit in the cockpit :)
     
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  20. Gardyloo
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    Gardyloo Gold Member

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    I paid Nexion lots of money over several years and finally closed up my travel agency business. The realities of the industry (now mind I'm talking strictly personally) are that if you're not prepared to really hustle in selling cruises you're not going to make any money. In the US (and note this is a very different story in other countries) the only airline commissions you make are when you sell full-fare (Y, J, D, F) tickets, and even then not all the time. Getting GDS access is fine, but I don't know of any individual TAs who make money selling air, unless their names are Expedia or Orbitz.

    I ended up being a travel consultant, charging an hourly fee, and taking on niche activities, like multi-year travel planning, FF accumulation and redemption advice and award booking, RTW itineraries and ticketing, things like that. It paid better, I got repeat traffic, and I didn't feel like I was pointing my clients to more expensive solutions than they needed, just for the commissions.

    Of course as in all things, YMMV.
     
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